Medical tourism is fast becoming a multi-billion dollar industry recognized globally by several countries. The concept of saving money by getting treated at a foreign destination sounds lucrative for patients who cannot afford the increasing healthcare costs in Western countries like the US and the UK. More and more developing nations are also entering the medical tourism market by encouraging public and private firms to invest in the sector.
However, not everyone is happy with the industry and its benefits. Potential stakeholders of the medical tourism and healthcare industries are apprehensive about the negative impacts of medical tourism on developing nations, one of them being the increased movement of doctors from public to private health sectors.
Accordingly, several interviews were conducted with potential stakeholders in the medical tourism and healthcare industries. These stakeholders came from private and public health care systems, allied businesses, government organizations and even civil society sectors. A thematic analysis of the stakeholder perception of the healthcare industry was developed with the answers obtained in these interviews.
The thematic analysis that was developed aimed to focus on three main points.
- The perceptions/expectations stakeholders have of existing as well as future plans and patterns for healthcare resource usage by the medical tourism facilities in the destination. Indications of possible growth in this area in the coming years were put forward.
- It includes the positive aspects of medical tourism on existing healthcare resources as well as access to healthcare in public systems. Some of the benefits anticipated by the stakeholders include superior quality control, increased training opportunities, and retention of health workers in the provider destination.
- It also covers the negative aspects of medical tourism on existing healthcare resources and the access to healthcare in public systems. Some of the negativities anticipated by stakeholders include inequities in healthcare, longer waiting periods and shift in planning priorities in the medical tourism sector.
The thematic analysis also saw the formation of two opposition groups. While stakeholders connected to the medical tourism sector focused more on the positive impacts of medical tourism on the healthcare sector, stakeholders connected to the public health equity and healthcare systems focused more on the negative impacts of medical tourism on existing healthcare systems. How these negative aspects would be taken care of in potential medical tourism destinations is still unclear.
Medical tourism destinations wishing to grow in the highly competitive market would need to compare the regulatory frameworks of different medical tourism destinations in order to bring together their positives points and create a unique framework that would minimize the negative impacts and increase the benefits. Only then, would these countries be able to develop a sustainable medical tourism business that would benefit all the parties involved.
The medical tourism industry is known to have its share of pros and cons. Stakeholders in the medical tourism and healthcare industry have varied perceptions of how the industry should function as well as how it could affect the public healthcare system in different countries. In their view, a potential medical tourism destination would need to minimise the negative impacts of the business in order to grow along with it.